A Chicago Tribune Web log
Originally posted: November 23, 2005
Below is an edited transcript of a Nov. 22 interview with "Prison Break" creator and executive producer Paul Scheuring, who addressed the show's "fall finale" next Monday and the issue of when the Fox drama will return.
Well, do the prisoners break out on Monday?
"What happens is, they become convinced that they have the opportunity to make the break, and perhaps they take advantage of that."
Does Lincoln’s execution start to unfold that night as well?
"The last we saw of Lincoln in last Monday’s episode, he was being taken to AdSeg [the administrative segregation unit], and he will not come out of that until the execution. We’re in countdown mode for that now. He’s headed in that direction. The time is nigh."
Once "Prison Break" goes on its break, when does it come back? Do you know yet?
"No. The only thing I know, in complete candor, is that there are a number of high-profile things being shuffled around. ‘American Idol’ is part of that, they may try to make a beachhead [with ‘Idol’] on Thursday night. If that happens, there is a domino effect. There are only so many spots available on the schedule. The long and the short of it is, I don’t know, but I should know within a week.
"What I understand is that there are three different models under consideration. One of them has us coming back in late January or early February. The second one has us coming back later in February. The third one is [returning in] May. Nobody knows which it will be. My initial first reading of the tea leaves -- I thought it would be May. But it seems in the last two weeks, the needle has been slowly swinging back toward an earlier return."
And presumably you want to return as soon as possible, in January, right? Has that been the feedback you’ve gotten from fans and people you talk to?
"Absolutely. That was the reaction of everyone. ‘We want to keep watching it.’ Fox has their own larger corporate programming model, and we have to fit into that. The good thing is that if the worst-case scenario happened and we come back in May, [the head of the Fox network] Peter Liguori told us that we’d have the mother of all promotional campaigns to relaunch the show. Who knows what programming decision will get made, but the good thing is that we have the full faith of the network behind us. No matter what, it is not [a case of], ‘Go quietly into the night.’ They are sticking with us."
But do you worry that people might forget about the show to a certain degree if it comes back in May? Would you rather come back sooner?
"Absolutely. We’d like to come back in January. I’m a novice when it comes to TV. I was surprised they take some shows down for all of December. I thought you take a couple weeks off for Christmas [by airing repeats] then you come back. I would like to have gone straight through and come back in January. We still have a lot more story to tell. We’ll see what they do."
"Prison Break" and "24" on Monday nights would make a very compatible block.
"Yeah, I agree with that. I don’t know that we’re an 8 o’clock show, but I suppose we are, they’ve been showing [repeats at that time]. I do think that would make a really nice block on Mondays."
I know you’ve said that you have the first season very much mapped out, have you altered any stories or any characters based on how they played out on the screen?
"Not too much. We’ve pretty much stuck to the game plan that we had. There are instances where a character was included in a scene because we really felt that character had hit a stride and that voice would be a good voice to have in the room. There have been some fine-tuning things like that, but we have not invented anything hugely new."
[Note: There are some mild to medium spoilers in some of what follows. Some questions concern upcoming developments this season and beyond, if you don't want to know about those topics, you might want to skip the answers to those questions.]
Are we going to see more of Patricia Wettig, and is her character’s goal to be president? Is that what her plan is about? [Wetting plays the vice president, who is one of the engineers of the plan to frame Lincoln Burrows; she is also running for president.]
"We’ll see more of her. But that’s kind of … that’s not really what her plan is. Obviously she’s running for president, but just to wrest that power from other candidates is not her long-term goal. There are greater secrets, and there are other manipulators in the equation. It’s not simply about her becoming president."
Will there be brand-new stories and new characters coming up in the second half of the season?
"Yes, there are always new stories coming up. Our mandate here on the writing staff is to always be giving new information, to never to rely just on old dynamics. There will be new characters and exits of major characters as well. It’ll always be fluid. We don’t want the audience to get too comfortable with who’s around and who’s not. There are no sacred cows. We want to keep the audience on their toes and keep them coming back.
"Some characters will die, new people will be slid into place. There will be a lot more revelations about people’s pasts once they are outside the prison walls. I’m not going to say in what episode the actual break will happen, but the whole show will be reinvented. It’ll be ‘Planes, Trains and Automobiles,’ it’ll be every method of conveyance, as everyone runs around the country. It’ll be ‘The Great Escape.’ Ultimately it becomes about all of them fulfilling their individual destinies, with the whole of America on their [trails]. It’ll be ‘The Fugitive’ times six or 10."
Will Veronica’s story come more to the fore when "Prison Break" returns?
"She’ll have a change of tack. In some ways she’s be flying into the teeth of the pursuit, and she’ll become a much greater thorn in the vice president’s side. It’ll become more personal, and she is going to have a higher profile than she already does. The conspiracy is really going to have to deal with her."
And when you say that anything could happen to anyone on "Prison Break," that there are no sacred cows, Veronica is included in that?
Will the tone of the episodes change in the next set of episodes? Because though the show has flashes of humor, being inside the prison can be pretty dark.
"Well, the stakes are always extremely high. We can never be slapstick. But we do like to put some wry humor in the show, here and there. There’s a certain amount of [b.s.-ing] that goes on when men are all in one place. There’s gallows humor. It’s not all doom and gloom, there are moments of levity.
"Also, what’s more important are the moments of humanity, moments of emotion with these guys. One thing we really try to do is have these characters where you might have preconceived notions of them, based on their [prison] jacket, based on their record. And we try to humanize them, make them three-dimensional. Even if someone goes to jail for armed robbery, they are not necessarily the most evil, most inhuman person on earth. The most important element of the series is this really profound emotional content."
And Michael, whom viewers might have seen as the good guy, has had to make decisions that are in moral gray areas.
"Our whole thing is a continual effort to make the characters probe this gray area. Because if T-Bag always does the evil thing, that gets boring. If the protagonist always is shiny and heroic, that’s can get old. Michael’s not exactly sure where the boundaries are, morally and ethically. It ratchets up the pressure on him, it forces him to make choices. And if he’d come into the prison as a structural engineer with no previous criminal record and then walked through the place like Cool Hand Luke, [viewers] would have definitely rolled their eyes. He has to make real choices, the bottom line is that he’s within the walls of the prison…"
And he has to get his hands dirty, literally and figuratively.
The actors have made the story more nuanced, it’s more than just a prison drama given the way they’ve humanized these characters.
"Certainly Wentworth, he came out of the gate on fire for us. When he was cast, that role of Michael is a guy who is a cipher, you never really know what he’s thinking. And 99 percent of young male actors don’t convey that, they convey ‘an actor guy trying to act mysterious.’ Whereas Wentworth just had that quality [in abundance]. He’s really a find. Rob Knepper [as T-Bag] has been superlative, in my opinion. I have to say, the whole cast has been so strong."
Has casting lots of Chicago actors helped keep the show fresh as well? It’s nice to see all these faces that are new to TV.
"Yes, for that reason you just cited [casting in Chicago has been beneficial]. You see a lot of newer faces, there’s just a greater sense of reality there. And everyone has been eager to give their best, so it in that sense it’s been very, very cool to cast so many Chicago actors."
Do you think shooting in Chicago has helped draw attention to the show? Obviously the actors and the story are the main draw, but it seems as though using Joliet prison and Chicago locations garnered the show even more interest.
"Shooting in Chicago has given us a legitimacy that we would not have had if we had shot on a soundstage in Los Angeles. The prison itself is such a visual character in the show, that’s the reason we picked it in the first place. It was heaven sent. And shooting there in Chicago, we’ve really gone after filming [around] Chicago, not just shoot inside small rooms, but we’re going to the river, we’re going to Millennium Park. We’re trying to show the beauty of Chicago. Not a whole lot of shows have shot here in a long time, so we’re in a position to take advantage of that. It’s unique, and it certainly doesn’t look like the San Fernando Valley."
You’ve said you have mapped out the first two seasons of "Prison Break," do you have ideas already for a third season?
"Certainly there are a lot of ideas bandied about, all kinds of things are being considered for Season 3. As of yet, none of that is etched in stone. We’re trying on a lot of hats with that. But Season 2 is right on pace with the original plan."
Can you say anything about what Season 2 would be about?
Would it focus on the same group of people?
"Yes, it would be the same group of people."
Anything else you want to add?
"There are some people out there reading tea leaves and thinking we got canceled. I want to assure them we are not canceled, we are in production for the back nine episodes. I don’t want people to think ‘Prison Break’ is going away. It’s going away, but it’s going to come back with a big splash."